Building trust top priority for new Nebraska women's coach
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Amy Williams made it clear she has a set of priorities as the new Nebraska women's basketball coach: Building trust, re-recruiting the players scheduled to join the program in the fall and keeping current players who might be thinking about leaving after months of tension.
Williams was formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday, one week after the unexpected resignation of Connie Yori.
The 41-year-old Williams, the head coach at South Dakota the past four years, will take over a program embroiled in turmoil at the end of the season amid allegations from players and support staff that Yori had mistreated players. Yori, who led the Cornhuskers to nine NCAA Tournaments in 14 years, has denied any wrongdoing.
Williams said in an interview that she met with players Monday and intends to leave the past in the past.
''We talked with the group last night about what a wonderful opportunity this is for all of us to start on a fresh slate and move forward and focus on the future,'' she said.
Williams will have a five-year contract paying $575,000 annually, about $160,000 less than Yori made. Williams was on a year-to-year contract at South Dakota that paid her $180,000. She said she hopes to have made all, if not most, of her decisions about hiring staff by the end of the week.
''I can't wait to join the journey with you guys and begin building relationships with you,'' Williams said, looking at players in the back of the room at the news conference. ''We're going to compete for championships. We're going to do it the right way and most of all we're going to do it together. I can't wait to start that process.''
South Dakota flourished under Williams, who will be making a significant jump from the Summit League to the Big Ten. The Coyotes were 96-44 the last four years. That includes a 32-6 mark this past season with road wins over Big Ten members Illinois and Minnesota, with the victory at Minnesota coming during the Coyotes' run to the WNIT championship.
Williams' teams won two Summit League regular-season championships, one conference tournament championship, and the Coyotes reached the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
Williams said Nebraska was among the few places for which she would have left South Dakota. The Spearfish, South Dakota, native was a walk-on guard for the Cornhuskers from 1994-98. Then Amy Gusso, she played sparingly in 57 career games.
''It gave me an indescribable feeling of pride as a student-athlete when I got to wear that Husker jersey across my chest,'' she said, ''and I'm so excited to have the opportunity to return and be a part of this again.''
Her first task is to pick up the pieces from a team divided over Yori's sudden departure. The athletic department began investigating Yori's treatment of players after concerns of bullying and disregard for players' well-being were raised in February by several current players and some support staff members.
Natalie Romeo, the team's second-leading scorer, and three male students who served as practice players told The Associated Press they never witnessed Yori overwork, bully or abuse players in any way. Romeo said she and teammates split into factions of those who supported Yori and those who didn't.
Some players were critical of how Yori conducted practices. Asked about that, Williams said, ''Our philosophy at practice will be to be as efficient and hard-working as you can. I'm very patient and tolerable as a coach. As long as I'm getting full effort, I'm a pretty happy lady.''
Athletic director Shawn Eichorst declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Yori's departure, other than to reiterate that he wished her well. She agreed to $1.2 million in severance.
Romeo has received permission to contact other schools about possibly transferring. Other players haven't commented.
Eichorst said he homed in on Williams quickly in his search.
''The key for us is to rally around Amy and our wonderful program and lock down our prospects,'' he said. ''She's a tremendous worker. She's building relationships. So we're plowing forward.''